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How to develop a successful mobile game

Posted by Ben Dickson on Jul 5, 2016 12:00:00 PM
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Building a mobile game is very tough, and not necessarily from a technical perspective. 80% of games aren’t even seen by users, and though you might be very fond of your latest mobile game, a reality check might prove that others don’t think likewise. In general two factors define the success of a mobile game:

  • Revenue: Money has the final say in this business. After all, unless you’ve spent hundreds and thousands of man-hours for social and charitable objectives, if the game doesn’t generate revenue, it won’t be able to sustain the continued endeavors of your studio.
  • Lifetime: Only a game that continues to engage users in the long term can be considered a success. A game that falls into the abyss after an initial sharp rise in popularity is not a successful one.

Even a high app store ranking cannot be considered a success factor if it doesn’t generate results in terms of the abovementioned metrics.

So how do you make sure your hard work and efforts actually generate the satisfactory results you desire? In this post I will share tips for developers to improve the chances of success for your mobile game. There are several caveats to good mobile game programming, especially if you have a background in programming games for other platforms, such as PCs or consoles.

harness distraction through simplicity

One of the main things to consider in developing mobile games is that mobile devices (smartphones, tablets…) are personalized and portable devices. So players will be using them in settings that are totally different from your traditional gaming environment (i.e. playing consoles in the living room or PCs in your bedroom). Your game will be played on the train, while waiting for the bus, sipping coffee in the local diner... which means there are a lot of elements that can lead to player distraction.

Therefore you need to make sure your game can be played with the least amount of focus and concentration. If you take a look at some of the most successful mobile games, such as Flappy Bird, the game concept is very simple and is rather focused on honing reflexes than thinking your way through a complicated puzzle.


Get it right: The do's and don'ts of playtesting your mobile game


never underestimate visuals

I wouldn’t say this for PC games. In fact, some of the best games I’ve played on PC suck at graphics (Zork or Civilization anyone?). But let’s face it: people don’t expect to play Panzer General on their smartphones. J

ust as it should be simple, the mobile gaming experience should be highly visual as well. Put extra care into refining the user interface and experience. App stores are flooded with poorly designed games which fail to catch the attention of users. Try not to be one of those.

Also try to keep things minimal. Overly complicated interfaces tend to frustrate and disenchant users, especially since there’s only so much you can fit on a smartphone screen. Players might forget – or forgive – a mediocre game plot, but they aren’t likely to do the same for a frustrating and confusing experience.

keep 'em coming

If you manage to ship a successful game, don’t stop there. As I said in the beginning, one of the keys to success is longevity. Games are unlike utility apps such as messaging and email, which can have a very long life without the addition of new features.

If you don’t roll out new content, levels, characters, expansion sets and complete sequels, there’s a likely chance that even your most loyal players will become bored from the repetitive experience and move on to something else, something new and more exciting. But if you always have something new to offer, you have a greater chance of convincing your players to stay with a favorite than trek into uncharted territories.

Another engagement opportunity can come from enabling your most die-hard fans to create expansions of their own. Making some of your in-house tools such as level and campaign editors public will enable you to invest in the energy and creativity of your fan-base to expand the world of your game.

Expansions are also a very good opportunity for monetization. Players who play your game through and enjoy it are usually inclined to spend a few bucks to unlock new levels or campaigns. And naturally, players who pay for an expansion are more likely to spend more time taking full advantage of their investment.

get feedback early

One of the worst mistakes you can make in creating a game is to think you know everything about everyone. Once you have a solid, unique concept in mind, create a prototype, introduce it to the world, and get feedback from actual players.

Dealing with real players will help you straighten up your ideas and make sure you’re building a game that your players will like, not one that you like. Going public early can help you make changes to the mechanics, plot, levels, features… before such alterations break the rest of the game and make it difficult to fix it.

over to you

Developing a successful mobile game is tough indeed and it’s getting tougher as hundreds of games are released by developers every day.

I hope the tips I shared will help you stay ahead of the competition. If you have anything to add, I’d love to hear it! Please share with us in the comments.

Topics: Insider

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